Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office Questions

8th September 2020

James Cleverly responds to questions from MPs.

 

Lebanon

What steps the Government are taking to support the Lebanese people since the explosion in that country on 4 August 2020. [905639]

What recent discussions he has had with the Home Secretary on restarting the resettlement of refugees from Lebanon. [905650]

What steps the Government are taking to support the Lebanese people since the explosion in that country on 4 August 2020. [905664]

Our thoughts remain with the people affected by the terrible events in Beirut. The Prime Minister, the Foreign Secretary and I spoke with the Lebanese President, Prime Minister and ambassador respectively. We rapidly deployed UK medical, humanitarian, military and logistics experts to support Beirutis in their response to the blast. The UK is a long-standing friend of the Lebanese people, and we were pleased to commit £25 million to help the most vulnerable.

On refugee resettlement, the resumption of arrivals remains dependent on covid-19 developments internationally and in the UK. We are not in a position to resume arrivals in the short term.

I thank the Minister for that answer and for the UK humanitarian response. The Lebanese people have suffered greatly from the consequences of civil war and then failed political institutions. What is the Minister doing to help bring about a stable political settlement, to allow the people of Lebanon to restore peace and security to their lives? Will he and the Foreign Secretary consider introducing Magnitsky-style sanctions in conjunction with other key members of the international community if any political leaders are found culpable?

As I say, my right hon. Friends the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary have engaged at the highest levels with the Lebanese Government, and ensuring that there is political and economic stability, as well as security, is key. We support the Lebanese Government in many ways, including through the Lebanese armed forces, which recruit cross-faith and cross-community. Our diplomatic efforts go hand in hand with our humanitarian efforts. My right hon. Friend will understand that future designations under our autonomous Magnitsky sanctions regime are not something that we wish to speculate about at the Dispatch Box, but we will ensure that our support to the people of Lebanon, and Beirutis in particular, continues.

Migrants are crossing the channel partly because of a lack of safe and legal routes. Refugee resettlement, including from Lebanon, is a safe and legal route, but the pandemic has understandably seen it suspended. Now is surely the time to reopen those safe and legal routes. Will the Minister take steps this week to assist the Lebanese Government in restoring safe routes to the UK for refugees?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his question. In 2015, the then Prime Minister committed to help 20,000 vulnerable refugees. As of March this year, 19,768 had been taken in by the UK, in a typical act of generosity. As I say, future acceptances will be dependent on the covid situation, which we will keep under review.

Before last month’s tragic blast in Beirut, Lebanon was already facing financial ruin, requiring investment from regional partners. Countries will obviously be reluctant to invest if they feel that some of their money may go to help fund Hezbollah and its activities. Has my right hon. Friend had conversations with his counterparts in Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and other Gulf states about what they can do to help Lebanon in its time of need?

My hon. Friend is right that the diplomatic efforts of the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office go hand in hand with its humanitarian efforts. We have indeed spoken to good friends of the UK across the region about what more they can do to support the Lebanese people. I hear what he says about concerns about money going to Hezbollah, and I can assure him that the money committed by my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary to support the Lebanese was targeted directly at the vulnerable people in need and did not go through Hezbollah.

One month on from the horrific explosion in Beirut and the subsequent collapse of the Lebanese Government, the UK Government have rightly pledged aid to support the people of Lebanon. Global leadership is urgently needed now to ensure the rapid reconstruction of the port of Beirut, to allow vital supplies and international aid to reach those in need. How are the Government planning to work with our international allies, such as France, to ensure that aid is delivered swiftly and directly to those who need it most on the ground in Lebanon and that the port can resume its vital role as a point of entry for UN aid to the whole region, including Syria, Iraq and Jordan?

The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right about the importance of Beirut as a port city for the Lebanese—a traditionally internationalist and commercially minded people. On international leadership, my right hon. Friends the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary engaged very swiftly at the highest level and, in her role as Secretary of State at the Department for International Development, my right hon. Friend the Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Anne-Marie Trevelyan) engaged within days with an international group of leaders—national leaders—to co-ordinate the response. I am very proud that British expertise, including under-sea survey experts, was deployed at haste to Beirut to help with the technical support in its rebuilding programme.

Hansard

 

Yemen

What recent assessment the Government have made of the political and humanitarian situation in Yemen. [905641]

What recent assessment he has made of the political and humanitarian situation in Yemen. [905652]

The humanitarian situation in Yemen is worsening, and we are particularly concerned about the growth of famine. In addition, UK-funded modelling predicts that the number of symptomatic cases of covid-19 in Yemen could reach as many as 10 million. In response to the risk of famine, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Affairs announced last week that we are committing a further £25 million to Yemen, and we continue to reiterate the UK’s unequivocal support for the efforts of the United Nations special envoy, Martin Griffiths.

Does the Minister agree that the action this Government have taken to support those in need in Yemen will be further enhanced by bringing together our diplomatic clout and development expertise in the new Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office?

I agree with my hon. Friend on that. My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary speaks with his international counterparts about the international effort to support Yemen, and I speak with the Yemenis themselves. The best thing that can happen for the people of Yemen is for the conflict to cease, which is why diplomatic pressure is applied to that end.

Today, Oxfam campaigners are visiting the new FCDO to hand in a letter on behalf of thousands of people, including my constituents, that calls on the UK Government to stop fuelling the war in Yemen and to reverse the decision to resume arms sales licences to Saudi Arabia. Does the Secretary of State not accept the inherent contradiction between selling arms with one part of the FCDO and providing aid with the other? Does he also accept that what Yemen needs is an urgent and immediate ceasefire, rather than an escalation of this five-year-old conflict?

The UK has an internationally respected and robust arms trade licensing regime. We have a close working relationship with the allies that are involved in the conflict in Yemen, to minimise civilian casualties and collateral damage. It is completely legitimate for all countries around the world to defend themselves against external aggression, and we are proud of the work we are doing to help the people of Yemen through this difficult time.

Hansard

 

Saudi Arabia: Human Rights Defenders

What steps the Government are taking to support human rights defenders in Saudi Arabia. [905645]

The United Kingdom has a strong relationship with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, which allows us to have important frank discussions. My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary raised human rights defenders with Saudi Ministers on his recent visit to Riyadh, and I have raised concerns with Dr Awwad, the head of the Saudi human rights commission, as did Lord Ahmad in June.

I am pleased to hear that the Minister is having robust conversations with the Saudis, but will the UK Government publicly call on the Saudi authorities to immediately and unconditionally release the five women human rights defenders who are still being detained, including Loujain al-Hathloul, Samar Badawi and Nassima al-Sada, and for all charges to be dropped against the 13 women’s rights defenders currently on trial for peaceful protest and activism?

It is important that we recognise that the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is taking significant steps in the right direction, and we encourage and support it to do so. The Foreign Secretary raised the release of those human rights defenders face-to-face on his visit to Riyadh just last month.

Hansard

 

UK-Egypt Relationship

What steps he is taking to strengthen the UK’s relationship with Egypt.  [905655]

The UK enjoys a strong relationship with Egypt, which is a key economic and security partner. We regularly engage at the most senior levels. In January, we welcomed President Sisi to London for the UK-Africa investment summit. The Foreign Secretary speaks regularly with Foreign Secretary Shoukry and I spoke with the Egyptian ambassador yesterday.

I thank the Minister for his answer. Security Print Solutions in Consett, County Durham, has a long-standing contract with the Egyptian Government to provide high-quality tax stamps for tobacco products, which have seen revenues to the Egyptian exchequer rise by 121%. Egypt is in the process of developing its own facility, but in the interim, ongoing contracts remain. Will the Minister use his good offices to do all he can to work with the Department for International Trade to help SPS fight for those interim contracts and look for other long-term opportunities to protect and expand export jobs in Consett worldwide?

My hon. Friend, in his relatively short time in the House, has shown himself to be a passionate defender of the businesses and people of North West Durham, and I commend him for doing so. I am aware of the case that he has raised. The ambassador and I did not speak directly on that case, but we did talk about bilateral trade relationships. I know our officials are following up on that, but I am more than happy to meet my hon. Friend directly, so he can raise the case with me.

Hansard

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